Kikkan Randall, showing no signs of the illness that sidelined her for most of the previous two weeks, skied to a career-best finish in a classic distance race today in Poland.
Randall placed eighth in a 10-kilometer race in Szklarska, Poland, where thousands of fans watched Polish hero Justyna Kowalcyzk snatch the World Cup overall lead from Marit Bjoergen of Norway by dominating the race.
Kowalcyzk finished in 28 minutes, 43.9 seconds, more than 35 seconds ahead of Bjoergen. Randall clocked 30:29.9 and was less than two seconds out of sixth place.
The effort boosted Randall, who placed third in Friday's freestyle sprint despite crashing in the finals, to fourth place in the overall standings; she was fifth entering the weekend. Her sprint performance Friday kept her in the World Cup sprint lead.
"This result confirmed that I am back in form after dealing with illness the last two weeks," Randall wrote in an email. "I think yesterday's sprint effort helped get me back on track after so many days of easy distance training."
Randall, a three-time Olympian who graduated from East High and trains with the Alaska Pacific University nordic program, credited the U.S. Ski Team's wax technicians for finding the right choices for what she called "super tricky" conditions, with some sections of track glazed with ice and others covered with dry snow.
Ida Sargent of Vermont skied to a career-best non-sprint finish, placing 26th, and Liz Stephen of Vermont placed 38th. Anchorage's Holly Brooks did not race.
Though the weekend was a showcase for Kowalcyzk, Randall drew her share of attention, a sign of her status as a bona fide nordic ski star in a part of the world where nordic ski stars are rock stars.
"There were multiple sections on the course where the fans were chanting my name," she wrote. "I must have taken pictures with over a hundred people over the two days."
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News